Saturday, January 29, 2011

Long Time Comin'

By Tala Abu Rahmeh

A Tunisian man, with beautiful silver hair, stood in front of the camera a day after the ex Tunisian president fled the country and said, "I have grown old waiting for this golden day to arrive," he kept saying "old" while touching his soft hair and shedding tears. Last night, an Egyptian man, 29-years-old, said that he has never understood democracy or freedom, but he always wanted them both, badly, together, and now is the time.

I was born in a house where pictures of Jamal Abdul Naser and Yassir Arafat glimmered side by side, and stories of Arab dignity and pride weaved themselves against the harsh water of Jordan, then suddenly, the pictures grew dusty, and became occupants of the slit sitting between the fridge and the wall. At 7, I used to tell people that I was Arab; not Jordanian, not Palestinian, not Egyptian, but Arab. My mouth tasted the honey of vowels and the bitter weather. At 16, while hiding under my bed from bombs and having little to no mention in the news, I renounced it all.

Then, out of nowhere, a slit in the clearest sky pushed itself open, and suddenly, we became alive. People took over their streets and screamed in hunger and anger. Demonstrators are still getting shot in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. Everybody who endured garbage city and slept on old graves of past kings finally said NO to tyranny and indignity, no to being so rejected from life. Most demonstrations were planned via Facebook and text messages. On the news, Arab thinkers are calling us the Facebook generation who is sparking a modern revolution.

It all started when a Tunisian graduate student, exactly my age (26), burned himself in protest. He had been selling vegetables to support his family, and the government, for no reason at all, confiscated his cart. I think of him every night, his brown skin curling in flames and shedding like flakes of thin chocolate. His body slowly folding in on itself, surprised at its ability to burst in pure, unstoppable fire. Two days later, young men burned themselves in Algeria and Egypt.

You might wonder, why should anyone be proud of youth burning themselves and getting shot in their own streets? Because who knew, that in the year 2011, people would still believe in hope? If our people didn't believe in an enormous amount of humanity, why would they bother? News channels race to report the names of the fallen, all aged 20, 21, 22. In the times of iphones and big houses, there are still people willing to die for the freedom of their people.

If anything, this proves how long our path really is. In Amman, people flaunt their Gucci bags in giant malls while the rest of the population is hungry. In Palestine, officials glued themselves to their seats and took the initiative to sell their people for little to nothing. In Cairo, Mubarak thinks he can silence his people by firing their own army at them. In Saudi Arabia, women can't even drive let alone have rights. In Iraq, people are killed by the American Army then bombed by their own people. We need so many revolutions to restore just an inch of love and dignity.

Nevertheless, today, we should celebrate; celebrate our own capacity for courage, and determination to never be silent. Real change has never been made overnight, but even the most pessimistic of us cannot deny that there is revolution in the air, and the taste and sweet smell of something new. So, hurray to our Facebook generation, may you never let yourself be silenced.


  1. Absolutely divine and spot on. Ya3teekee il 3afeeya, Tala. Viva la Facebook generation, and all of the change it drives and the hope it inspires.

  2. Amen! Push that slit ever more open, 7obi.

  3. William Smedley mr.willsmedley@gmail.comMay 18, 2012 at 5:09 PM

    This is a brilliant piece Tala! It makes me think of the academics and politicians--as well as the grad students here at Georgetown etc--whom "speak with authority" on the Arab Spring, but neglect to notice that when they speak of the youth, whose "brown skin curling in flames and shedding like flakes of thin chocolate," are more than a demographic trend--a... correlation...

    (Just to note--there was an ad on the Georgetown list-serv advertising the "exciting employment opportunities researching and working in fields" responding to the "Arab Spring." Just struck me as immeasurably irresponsible, arrogant, and ethnocentric...

    The youths of whom you speak and indeed others whom stand in solidarity with them, naturally capable of perceiving and affirming their humanity, and thus a shared identity (funny how that seems such a stretch for many) are truly much more than an independent variable for ascertaining patterns in contemporary uprisings. They are people, they have names, and they are not so distinct from their elders--a different demographic bubble. But even when trends are recognizable, why is it that even the fucking scholar seems as if to inadvertently blame the statistic, the 20, 21, 22 year old Arab youth enraged (and the only meaningful "critical" assessment of why is their youth) at the structures controlling their lives! Funny how these revolutions are never compared to those same statistics of those historical revolutions that these same theorists affirm as righteous, historical, noble, patriotic, etc etc etc...